Utah retailers' cash registers were ringing up more sales during the 1998 holiday season than they did in 1997, according to a new report from the Utah State Tax Commission.

The commission report said sales and purchases by the state's largest sales taxpayers hit $2.28 billion in December 1998, up 8.5 percent when compared to December 1997.But after adjusting for seasonal trends, December taxable sales of $1.87 billion were down 0.5 percent from November 1998.

The commission report also said preliminary data show Utah's taxable sales rose 7.6 percent for the entire calendar year of 1998, when compared to 1997.

Retail trade, the largest major sector, reported sales of $1.46 billion in December 1998, up 10.3 percent from the same month of 1997. Those figures were boosted by a 27 percent increase in sales at eating and drinking places and a 25 percent jump in food store sales.

Motor vehicle dealer sales also rose almost 14 percent.

The report said service sector growth at 4 percent in December 1998 was muted compared to previous months.

Geographically, December taxable sales were "mostly strong" along the Wasatch Front, the report said, rising about 8 percent in Salt Lake and Weber counties, 17 percent in Utah County and 14 percent in Davis County.

"Direct sales for the largest Utah cities were volatile relative to last year, but overall they increased 8.5 percent," the commission report said.

Salt Lake City's sales rose 3 percent in December, while a new mall in Provo boosted its sales by 38 percent. Orem sales were flat, St. George's rose 20 percent and Murray's were up 10 percent.

Growth was stronger in some suburban and outlying cities, with December sales up 30 percent in West Jordan, 25 percent in Bountiful and 20 percent in Logan.